Jose de Ribera - Ladies Duel (Women's Duel). 235 x 212 cm
This picture has an original and very interesting story. It was written as part of a cycle of more than thirty paintings on the history of Rome. Fulfilled the order of several artists, including de Ribera.
The canvas is written on an event that really happened. In 1552, two wealthy and noble Neapolitan ladies sorted out relations among themselves in a real duel. The reason for such an extraordinary event was the love of the local gentleman. He watched the passage of the "battle" of the Marquis of DaValos, a famous aristocrat.
The image in the picture, despite the real background of the event, is allegorical. Many scholars interpret the plot as a duel between virtue and vice.
The composition is built as a battle of two Roman gladiators in a female form. In the background you can see a rather high board fence separating the audience from the arena. Behind her is a group of men in antique outfits and military uniforms. They are armed - long spears and halberds rise above the crowd. The "mass" is depicted in dark, brownish tones for a more contrasting selection of figures in the foreground.
The backdrop of the picture is a blurred image of the landscape with Vesuvius in the background and architectural elements. Both the building and the mountain are drowning in a light bluish-gray haze, only the sky in the distance is slightly golden from sunlight.
The foreground of the canvas is an image of two battling women in complex, somewhat mannered poses. This is typical for Baroque painting, as well as the use of rich colors and spectacular draperies with large, beautiful folds.
One of the women fell under the pressure of the enemy, hiding behind a small shield worn on her hand. In her other hand, she has a long, thin sword, more like a rapier. This is a clear borrowing from the contemporary artist of the era - in Roman times they used a short wide sword - the gladius. This figure personifies the vice afflicted by Virtue.
The second female figure is depicted in a punitive pose. A sword is placed above the head of the defeated Vice, a round, convex shield covers the body. Unlike the figure of a fallen woman, executed in restrained and rather dark colors, Virtue is decorated with a golden yellow tunic, assembled in a beautiful drapery.
The canvas impresses with its expression and original plot, as well as the high level of the artist’s pictorial skill. It occupies a worthy place in the exposition of the Prado Museum.